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Mental Illness Claim Doesn’t Fly in New York Department of Education Lawyer’s Divorce Case

An attorney with a reputation for aggressiveness in arbitration cases against New York City teachers was dealt a blow in her effort to use a mental health claim to boost her alimony payments to more than $60,000 a month.

Leona Barsky, 56, is a graduate of Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked at Kramer, Levin, Nessen, Kamin & Frankel, served as a lawyer for Revlon, and handled arbitration cases for the city’s Department of Education.

In that role, she earned the reputation as an arbitrator who was “hired to fire” teachers accused of misconduct.

In 2012, her husband of 25 years, Stephen Radin, filed for divorce.

The couple have raised two children, and married at George Washington Manor in Roslyn, Long Island in 1987.

Around the time her husband filed, Barsky left her job. She claims now that she suffers from an unnamed mental health disorder and has been unable to work since then.

She was even prepared to have her psychiatrist testify to her “very fragile” and “seriously traumatized” condition, but there were some reasons to question the facts of the case as she presented them.

Indeed, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Ellen Gesmer didn’t even allow the psychiatrist’s testimony.

In a blistering 29-page decision denying Barsky’s demand for increased alimony, she pointed to a litany of flaws in Barsky’s case as well as her conduct.

First, Gesmer noted that the same psychiatrist, during the custody portion of the divorce, had written supportively of Barsky, describing her as “a strong person” who has “never evidenced any symptoms of mental illness.”

So what changed? For Barsky, it may be a matter of finances.

According to Radin, Barsky used the time off during the divorce to spend his money, blowing through some $1.5 million.

He claims she enjoyed extravagant luxury vacations, expensive jewelry, designer clothing, and even plastic surgery. She also paid her lawyers out of those funds.

Meanwhile, even though she asserted that she was too ill to work, she volunteered to give a talk to law students at her alma mater at the University of Pennsylvania.

Judge Gesmer was also incensed by Barsky’s conduct in the case. According to the ruling, Barsky skipped out on a hearing by sending a doctor’s note explaining that she was on the verge of a heart attack.

That night, she went out to a Knicks game, a series of events that will pretty much always bring down the wrath of the judicial system on a party in any type of case.

If you went looking for ways to anger a judge, it would hard to come up with a better move than that.

The judge also criticized Barsky’s unwillingness to play by the rules during the case, noting that she had been caught “lying on her net-worth statement by inflating expenses by large amounts in 22 separate categories.”

Gesmer noted that while Barsky claims that “her mental condition prevents her from maintaining employment,” as a corporate attorney, she could easily earn more than $300,000 a year, even with the break in her employment.

In fact, Gesmer wrote, Barsky can “achieve anything” if she’d put her mind to it.

Rather than award her the $60,000-plus that she asked for, Gesmer instead authorized a $12,000 a month payment.

While most people would be quite comfortable with that kind of income, it must have stung Barsky to win such a measly award compared to the one she sought.

Stephen Radin, Barsky’s estranged husband, probably wasn’t thrilled with the decision either.

Radin, 55, is a graduate of Cornell and Columbia and works as a partner at international corporate law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

According to media reports, he earns around $2 million a year.

Despite his wife’s bad behavior during the action, she walked away with $12,000 a month in maintenance, around $4 million in assets, including a Lexus, a $3 million Upper West Side apartment, and $140,000 in silverware, jewelry, and art.

Not a bad haul for someone whose alleged mental health condition makes working – and playing by the rules in a legal case – impossible. In most divorce cases, this would be considered an outstanding outcome for a client.

Divorce cases can become extremely messy, and claims can fly to try to reduce or expand payments to one spouse or the other.

It’s normal to, within legal and ethical boundaries, present your financial picture in as favorable a way as possible, but some acts go beyond the pale.

The judge in this case seems to believe that one party dropped out of a lucrative career in order to try to get the other to fund what sounds like a pretty high flying lifestyle.

She looked at the earlier psychiatric evidence in order to refute claims made at a later date from the same psychiatrist, and found that financial disclosures had been misstated in a particularly egregious way.

When facing a spouse who is committed to extreme acts in order to try to for the most expansive awards, it’s important that you work with only the most experienced divorce attorneys.

When your future is on the line, don’t take chances with lawyers who may not understand the games your spouse can play.

The difference between a properly negotiated or litigated outcome and a weakly presented case can be huge, both in terms of money and the investment of time and energy.

Don’t risk your future when you’re facing a tough divorce against a spouse who fights dirty.

At Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino, we fight hard for our clients.

Our experienced team of matrimonial lawyers in Brooklyn know how to push back against misleading financial statements and bad conduct on your spouse’s part. We can help you get the best outcome possible in your case.

Call us today at 718-725-9601 for a free consultation with experienced Brooklyn divorce attorneys.

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